Ole Miss finished 16-15 and there was postseason talk as the games wound down toward Tampa. But down the stretch, the short-handed and weary band of Rebels could only manage to win one of its last five games, counting an SEC Tournament setback at the hands of Kentucky. And the season was done.
There were highlights along the way, like beating Kentucky and Tennessee at home and winning at Mississippi State and Arkansas.
But there were equally as many low points. There is hope the injured players, and there were many, will return for the 2009-10 season as good as they were before their setbacks. Kennedy is confident.
"Trevor Gaskins was the first one injured, and he's back to almost full activity," he said. "There are still some precautions. For his ACL he took a hamstring graft, so there are two injuries that have to be rehabbed. He did the same thing with the other leg in high school where they did an ACL and a hamstring to repair it. He is such a strong kid. He's back at almost full strength. He will be a full member of what we are doing this spring as we get into the swing of things.
"EP (Eniel Polynice) is behind that a little bit because his injury was later. But he's moving around and mobile. His strength has never been better in both his legs and his upper body. His body has changed. I think he will be back to full activity probably mid-May. Chris Warren lost some weight and he's working to get his weight back and his strength back. He's able to move around. They're being cautious to let the graft take hold. I think he will be a mid-May as well. All three of them are doing great. We don't foresee any problems. There've been no red flags to this point. They're all passing with straight A's as it relates to where they are and where we would hope they would have been. They're all well ahead of schedule."
Others were injured who didn't have surgery, or at least haven't yet.
"Zach (Graham) will have surgery to repair the torn tendon," Kennedy said. "They did an MRI, and a couple of people looked at it and gave us percentages, which was pure speculation until they get in there. But he does have a tear of the patella tendon in his knee. Once they go in, we'll set a timeline, and a lot of it depends on the extent of the injury. It's an injury I've never been around. I've never had a kid that's had it. So I don't know how long it will take and the doctors don't want to speculate because they don't know the extent of the tear, until they get in and see it. There wasn't a "something just happened moment" with Zach like there was with Chris and Trevor. It was more like an EP deal. It could have started small and evolved. I don't know for sure.
"David (Huertas) hasn't needed anything but rest. There's no stress. It's just a bone contusion to the top of his foot. It's progressing as we speak. I wouldn't anticipate any action except just healing."
There were almost as many medical reports this season as scouting reports. By March, the tank was running low as it related to bodies available.
"Our margin for error was small," Kennedy said. "The fact that we were counting on freshmen who were obviously going through the physical and mental grind of SEC basketball for the first time was factored in to that margin being small. What ultimately got us more than just physical exhaustion was the fact that David was not able to play the way David needs to play to be as effective as we've seen him be. He works very, very hard. He's a grinder. He's a worker. He has to exert a lot of energy to be as effective as we need him to be. His foot injury limited his effectiveness.
"As for Zach, it was a cumulative effect of just the season and the grind and the inability for him to get quality practice time. That affected his timing but more than anything with the injury it did wear on him near the end of the season. With those two guys not 100 percent and add in the injuries to the others, all of a sudden you look up and it's tougher. We were able to overcome it once at Arkansas."
But it was a challenge to do that, beating the Razorbacks in overtime in a hostile environment. The other four contests to end the season – at Auburn, at home against Alabama, at home against Mississippi State, and in the SEC tourney vs. the Wildcats – were tall tasks as well. But the Rebels couldn't muster enough of whatever they had left in them to win them.
"Even to win at Arkansas, we had to get career highs out of three different guys and shoot 60 percent from the floor, which is what we did," Kennedy said. "Will Bogan had to score more points in that game than he did in the other SEC games combined prior to that. So that's how we were able to overcome it once. When you're asking guys "We need you to go out and get a career high tonight, and we need three of you to do it." To put this and all these pieces together, that's just a lot to ask. I just think ultimately we ran out of bodies, and as a result the end came sooner than we'd hoped."
As for scholarship players, next year the Rebels will have two seniors - Huertas and Cranston. Getting additional years to play because of their injuries will be Polynice, a junior again this fall, and Gaskins, who will again be a sophomore.
"We will appeal (to get Chris Warren another year), but he is one game over," Kennedy said of the point guard's situation. "We've researched it, and nobody has been able to win that appeal because the rule is the rule. It's unfortunate for him, but it is what it is."
So Warren joins Polynice, along with Graham and Malcolm White, as juniors next year.
The sophomore class will be Gaskins, Bogan, SEC Freshman of the Year Terrico White, Terrance Henry, Murphy Holloway, and Kevin Cantinol.
Reginald Buckner, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward from Memphis, the all-time shot blocks leader in Tennessee high school basketball history, is the lone signee.
Kennedy believes all of this year's players will be back for next season.
"Right now there's no indication that we won't be whole," he said. "We'll visit with all of them. Ultimately, as it relates to APR and retention, we've got good kids and we're not going to have any eligibility issues, assuming kids stay on the same path that they're on. But we evaluate each kid, from our walkons to our leading scorer, as to where they are and what's the plan, and are they happy in their situation. Because I'm a firm believer, and having been a player and also a transfer, you only have this chance once in your life. You should make sure you enjoy your experience. If you don't, you'll regret it, and I don't want them to do that."
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